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What Art Gave to Me

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A young Indigenous urbanite reflects on her development as an emerging artist and human being.

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Being a 'mutt', 'half-breed' or 'mudblood' is never easy. Having no clear definition of who you’re supposed to be inevitably leads to a certain amount of confusion.

From a tender age, being half Cree and half Irish, I've grappled with different "who am I?" and "What am I?" questions. Sometimes I want go for a smudge, and other times and I wan to go for tapas and a drink.

As a child growing up urban and Indigenous, I traveled with my family every year to  my dad's home community of Chisasibi in James Bay Cree territory. We spent incredible quality time with my nookum, noomshum, and all my cousins. I always felt so connected and at home. Not until later did I start to feel different.

Family-2
Family Throwback

I had grown up in a very different environment than the kids in Chisasibi. In Montreal, I was lucky enough to go to a school that inspired leadership and academics. I had a mum who allowed me to be obnoxious and wild and kind. I had a father who taught me to be spiritual, and who guided me in traditional Cree practices. He was able to gently give me a sense of self amidst the (often wonderful) chaos that is Montreal.

Dad
Dad and me

At the time, I had no words for what I was;  no explanation or even a TV show that showed strong Indigenous, urban women living similar a similar experience to me.

This cultural dichotomy felt pretty overwhelming to me until I started university. I moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia to attend NSCAD - a dedicated arts school. While I was there I joined and became co-head of the Indigenous collective; something that gave me my first sense of Native community within an urban context.

While I was there, I decided to take a contemporary Indigenous art history class taught by Carla Taunton. I didn’t really know what to expect from it… Beading? Basketry? The art of Indian tacos? Not quite - instead, I explored colonization through Indigenous contemporary art. I'd previously had some inkling of our people's injustices thanks to my parents, but a whole new reality became accessible to me in Carla’s Class.

In this course, I learned of decolonization through art and how collective actions and practices can directly impact one's self and community. I witnessed the multifaceted power of art, and its ability to give a voice and vision for the future.

I was once so frustrated – not because of any particular situation (although situations always seem to come up), but rather because I didn’t have a vocabulary to explain the violence of colonialism to people who never had to see it, experience it, or survive it.

Out on the land
Ski-Dooin' out on the land

Through art, I have been able to find other people in very similar situations to mine - I've been able to confide in them and ask “it’s not just me eh?”. And for the record, it’s not. Art has become a haven of sorts – a manifestation of ideas once buried in me, now brought out and ready for discussion. I'm excitedly working through all the clutter, and am finally beginning to know and love Katie Webb. I am who I am, and I’ll be damned if anyone tries to get in my way.

Katie Webb is a Cree/Irish urban Indigenous person born and raised in Montreal.  She holds a BFA in Fine Arts and a Minor in Art History from NSCAD University.  She is about to begin a degree in Fashion and Textile Design at Central Saint Martins in London England Fall 2017. She has a passion for contemporary Indigenous art and themes.

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